Thankfully, the governing bodies that oversee Rhode Island’s boating regulations and laws, understand that less is more.
Rhode Island canoe and kayak laws allow for non-motorized vessels to be exempt from registration. However, it is mandatory for all canoes and kayaks to have onboard a life jacket for each person and a loud sound-making device like a whistle.
Rhode Island Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview
Governing Body – The Rhode Island DEM (Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management) is responsible for all boating and water safety laws pertaining to all watercraft including canoeing and kayaking within the state.
Various law enforcement agencies enforce these laws including the US Coast Guard (on Federal Waters) and the Environmental Police (in State Parks and Management Areas).
Canoe Registration – Canoes and kayaks that are not motorized (powered only by muscles) do NOT need to be registered in Rhode Island.
However, if your canoe or kayak has ANY type of motor (no matter the horsepower or pounds of thrust) it must be registered and numbered appropriately on each side of the vessel with the assigned registration numbers.
Title – Unlike most states which don’t require non-powered craft (especially canoes and kayaks) to be titled, Rhode Island requires all kayaks and canoes (regardless of size) to be titled.
Information on both registration and titling can be found HERE.
Canoe/Kayak License Requirements – If the craft is powered only by means other than an assisted device like a motor, no license or registration is required.
Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements – No certification or special education is required to operate a non-powered canoe/kayak OR a powered canoe/kayak with a motor of less than 10 HP (that would include pretty much all canoes with trolling motors)
Who needs a Rhode Island boating education certification? – Anyone born after January 1, 1986, will need a Boater Safety Certification in order to operate any motorized vessel with a motor of more than 10 HP.
Motorized Canoeist Requirements/Age – If you are operating a motorized (MONSTER) canoe with a motor more powerful than 10 HP, then you’ll need to have your Boater Safety Certification OR be supervised by someone over the age of 18 who has their certification.
Otherwise, if your vessel (canoe or kayak) has a motor smaller than 10 HP (or any electric trolling motor) you won’t need any certification.
Operating Under the Influence – No person is allowed to operate or be in physical control of a canoe while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Anyone caught with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher will be in violation of BUI (boating under the influence) laws.
Emergency Equipment Requirements – As in most jurisdictions, a wearable personal flotation device needs to be accessible to everyone in a vessel in the state of Rhode Island.
The minimum legal requirements for emergency equipment on your vessel (canoe/kayak) includes the following:
- Life jackets— U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets, of the right size and type, for everyone on board
- A white navigation light—during low visibility such as fog, heavy rain, night time, dawn or dusk. It must be visible from all angles (or at minimum, a “navigation” light deployable in sufficient time to prevent a collision)
- Visual Distress Signal – Not necessary in Rhode Island UNLESS you are on coastal waters.
- Sound Producing Device – Typically an emergency whistle capable of making a “loud” noise.
Do I Need a License or permit of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in Rhode Island?
While Rhode Island does require registering a motorized craft (battery-powered or liquid fuel-powered), as well as all boats over 12 feet in length, it does not require non-powered kayaks or canoes to be registered.
Do I Need a Title for my Canoe or Kayak in Rhode Island?
While most states do not require a title, Rhode Island requires titling of any craft longer than 14 feet. This would include most expedition canoes and performance kayaks.
Do I Need a License in Rhode Island if my Canoe or Kayak has a Motor?
You’ll need to register and title your motorized canoe in Rhode Island. All motorized vessels (including those with trolling motors) in Rhode Island need to have a valid registration.
Note that if your motorized canoe or kayak is registered in another state, you won’t need to register or title your boat if it’s only used temporarily in Rhode Island for 90 days or less.
Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized vessels in Rhode Island
Do I have to be a certain age in Rhode Island to operate a canoe with an electric trolling motor?
Rhode Island does not restrict the age of anyone operating a non-motorized vessel. There is also no age restriction or qualification necessary to operate a motorized vessel under 10 HP. See page 47 of the official Rhode Island boating laws handbook for details.
NOTE: While it is not necessary to obtain a Boating Safety Education Certificate (Boater Education Card) in order to operate a vessel motorized with a 10 HP motor or smaller, it MAY help save on any insurance you may put on your vessel.
To obtain your valid boating certification (so you can operate a PWC or other motorboat), visit the Official Rhode Island Boating Safety Course website.
Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence in the State of Rhode Island
Is it illegal to drink alcohol while paddling my canoe in Rhode Island?
It is illegal to drink beyond a threshold of 0.08% blood alcohol content. Boating under the influence in Rhode Island can result in the loss of a driver’s license under certain circumstances.
Rhode Island Boating Emergency Equipment Requirements
Every state has a slightly different take on what is required or suggested regarding life jackets. I’m a pretty good swimmer, but it’s just become a habit now for me to wear a PFD at all times.
In my case, I’ll cheat a bit and take it off or open it for a while if it’s insanely hot and the water is calm, but as a rule, I’d say wear one all the time!
What are the required items I’ll need legally while canoeing/kayaking in Rhode Island?
You’ll need a number of items of gear for legal and safe travel on Rhode Island’s waterways.
Life Jacket – You will be required by law to have a readily accessible and wearable PFD (personal flotation device) for everyone on board your craft. They need to be Type I, II or III (or a wearable V)
Throwable Flotation Devices – Not mandatory
Manual Bailing Device – Not officially mandatory, but it’s a VERY good idea to have one.
Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Not required unless your vessel is in coastal waters. If you are on coastal waters of Federally controlled waters, your canoe/kayak will need to have a minimum of 3 nighttime VDS’s (or day/night VDS’s like a flare or red meteor).
Navigation Lights – Unpowered vessels require, at minimum, a bright white lantern with enough luminosity to prevent a collision.
Sound Devices – Officially, Rhode Island requires canoes and kayaks to have a loud sound-producing device audible for half a mile at least. Loud human voices are not acceptable.
Fire Extinguishers – Not required in canoes/kayaks
Emergency Locator Beacons – Not required, but I’ve included this piece of equipment because I believe it is something EVERY canoeist and kayaker should have regardless of where they will paddle. ACR makes a very good model (pictured below).
Do Adults Have to Wear Life Jackets in a Canoe or Kayak in Rhode Island?
Canoes or kayaks of any size/length need to have aboard a Type I, II or III US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for each person.
Kids under 13 years old must WEAR the PFD at all times while in the canoe or kayak.
IMPORTANT: It’s worth a mention to note that the PFD must be in good condition (not full of rips/tears with broken straps, etc.) AND must be readily accessible, AND must be of the proper size for the intended user.
Emergency Sound Device (Rhode Island Boating Law)
According to Rhode Island boat laws, all boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In Rhode Island, any powered or unpowered canoe or kayak MUST have a whistle or powered horn. A loud human voice is not acceptable.
We regularly use the FOX 40 whistle that you can get HERE for around $10!
That said, if you’re feeling adventurous, there is a louder whistle that exceeds the typical 115 to 120 decibel level of the Fox 40 line of whistles. The Hyper-Whistle is a great alternative to the Fox 40 though it’s a few dollars more and a tiny bit bigger.
It offers a 2-mile range and can hit up to 142 decibels (dB). You can check it out on Amazon for only about $5 more than the Fox 40.
You may also choose to have an air horn or other device that does not require your lung power, but I find a whistle is more than adequate given its smaller size, lower price, and because it’s maintenance-free and never has to be replaced or recharged or “checked” unless it’s lost.
Canoe/Kayak Emergency Lighting (Rhode Island Boating Law)
Do I need special lights for my canoe in Rhode Island?
If you are operating an unpowered canoe or kayak, you’ll need to have AT LEAST a bright white lantern that produces a light that is visible from every angle and displayed in sufficient time to prevent a collision.
All craft (including canoes/kayaks) must display a white light visible from all angles if anchored anywhere OTHER THAN a designed mooring area.
The State of Rhode Island encourages users of kayaks and canoes (after dark) to display the bow red/green lights as well when underway. I’ve included a photo and link below to the best option (which is also the cheapest) for a canoe or kayak.
This is the best (and least expensive) option for a portable bow light that satisfies all state/provincial boating regulations.
This is definitely the light I would get if I didn’t already have an excellent light that I use for longer wilderness trips (smaller but not as impressive as this one)!
A stern mounted white light such as this one is exactly what is mandated for use if your canoe or kayak is (for some reason) moored away from shore overnight.
Here’s our choice for an excellent small, effective, and compliant stern light for dusk to dawn voyages.
Here’s a light very similar to the one I actually use in real life on my trips!
Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Required only on Federally-controlled waters in the state.
Here’s the most convenient night VDS that is compliant with regulations in all states and provinces.
Rhode Island Canoe / Kayak Fire Extinguisher Law
Fire extinguishers are not required for canoes or kayaks for obvious reasons. If you should find yourself in a situation where a fire breaks out in your canoe, a simple splash of water (or barring that, a controlled capsize) should do the trick nicely.
Rhode Island Boating Rules and Certification Information
Rhode Island’s Boating Rules and Regulations can be found HERE